Although we had heard a lot of horror stories about land crossings in and out of Cambodia, we decided that we couldn’t afford to fly and reluctantly booked a bus straight through from Ho Chi Minh to the capital Phnom Penh. We booked through a hotel next door to us and hoped for the best. Extra charges, long waiting times, bribery and fake immigration offices were all things that we had been told or had read so it’s safe to say that we were preparing ourselves for the worst!
We were picked up at 7.30am outside of the booking office and taken to the bus station, where we were shown to our seats. It was around 3 hours to the border and the bus conductor took our passports into the immigration office for us; I had heard that this sometimes happens so wasn’t overly worried.
The only issue was that the process wasn’t explained to us, so it got a little confusing when we arrived at the border to exit Vietnam. We were hearded off of the bus and into an immigration building, where we came face to face with passport control. Only our guide had disappeared and we were without a passport. Thankfully just as we were beginning to panic, our guide reappeared and returned our documents to us, having completed our departure and arrival cards for us. We were swiftly taken through to no-mans land and back onto the bus to head to the Cambodian border.
This was the point where I was expecting trouble, and sure enough on arrival our guide picked out all of the westerners and told us to wait in a corner. He then once again disappeared with our passports. I was imagining a two hour wait, which could maybe of been sped up by an extra payment. However within 15 minutes our guide was back with our tourist visas completed! I couldn’t quite believe how quick and easy it was; we didn’t even need to provide a passport photo which I had read was a must. We then got our visas stamped and our finger prints taken before being let loose in Cambodia!
The whole process took maybe 45 minutes at the most; super quick compared to the nightmare 3 hours that some travellers have claimed to wait! I would 100% book a through bus and let the local guides sort the visas out for you!
It was a further 4 hours to Phnom Penh and we were dropped out on the outskirts to the city, where we got a tuk-tuk to our hostel. On entry to Cambodia you are immediately aware of how poor this country is; the roads are nowhere near as good as Vietnam and there are unfortunately a lot of people living on the street. Once you learn about the country’s very recent history however (see my next post), you realise how far they have come in the last 30 years and it’s quite amazing how much they have managed to rebuild (physically and emotionally) in such a short space of time. The country itself is a lot dryer than Vietnam and is the flattest we have been to so far, which makes bus journeys a lot less travel sickness inducing!
Our hostel is very simple and one of the more grotty we have stayed in, but it is right by the Mekong river in the backpacking area and for just two nights it was enough to rest out heads.
We went out to a street food restaurant that evening and ate homemade noodles that are made and cooked right in front of you, and planned how to best make the most of our only full day in the capital!